Design by Hans Holbein the Younger for a metalwork book cover (or treasure binding)

Book design is the art of incorporating the content, style, format, design, and sequence of the various components and elements of a book into a coherent unit. In the words of renowned typographer Jan Tschichold (1902–1974), book design, "though largely forgotten today, [relies upon] methods and rules upon which it is impossible to improve, [and which] have been developed over centuries. To produce perfect books, these rules have to be brought back to life and applied".[1] Richard Hendel describes book design as "an arcane subject", and refers to the need for a context to understand what that means.[2]


Modern books are paginated consecutively, and all pages are counted in the pagination whether or not the numbers appear (see also: blind folio). The page number, or folio, may be found at the top or the bottom of the page, often flush left verso, flush right recto. The folio may also be printed at the bottom of the page, and in that location it is called a drop folio. Drop folios usually appear either centered on each page or flush left verso and flush right recto.[3] The book contains the main text and a number of paratexts that comprise all of the additional matter that is included in the book.[4]

Matching Book Covers

A book's cover should match what's inside to keep everything in balance. For example, in a book called "Judging a Book by Its Cover" by the University of Hawaiʻi Press, the author talks about how the cover should match the writing. When we think about how books are made like the cover, how it's put together, and the words inside, it's like showing what the author feels. The cover doesn't have to be exactly the same, but it should connect to what's in the book. If they're too different, it messes up the whole book's balance. You could talk more about how the cover affects what people think and how it works with the book's content, adding depth to your discussion without pushing for an exact match.

Front matter

Front matter (or preliminaries; shortened to "prelims") comprises the first section of a book, and is usually the smallest section in terms of the number of pages. Front-matter pages are traditionally numbered in lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.), which prevents renumbering the remainder of a book when front-matter content is added at the last moment, such as a dedication page or additional acknowledgments. Page number is omitted on blank pages and display pages (i.e., such stand-alone pages as those for the half title, frontispiece, title page, colophon, dedication, and epigraph), and it is either omitted or a drop folio is used on the opening page of each section of the front matter (e.g., table of contents, foreword, preface).[3] Front matter generally appears only in the first of a multi-volume work, although some elements (such as a table of contents or index) may appear in each volume. It can get in the way of reading a book for even the most devoted fans of an author.[5]

The following table defines some common types of front matter, and the "voice" (or point of view) in which each can be said to be given:

Name Voice Purpose
Half title Publisher A mostly-blank page at the front of the book block which precedes the title page and contains only the title (omitting the subtitle, author, publisher, etc. found on the full title page) and occasionally includes some slight ornamentation. The title traditionally appears on the page as a single line in capital letters, but modern half title pages may be scaled-down versions of the typography from the full title page. The half title page faces a blank verso or an endpaper.[6]
Frontispiece Author or publisher A decorative illustration on the verso facing the title page. It may be an image related to the book's subject or a portrait of the author. Frontispieces have become less common, with a list of the author's previous works or other titles in a multi-author series frequently taking the place of the frontispiece.
Title page Publisher Repeats the title and author as printed on the cover or spine, often using typographic elements carried over from either the cover design or from the rest of the book's interior. Title pages may also include the publisher's logo accompanied by the city and/or year of publication.[6]
Copyright page Publisher and printer (Also known as Edition notice) Technical information such as edition dates, copyrights, translations used, and the name and address of the publisher or printer. It usually appears in modern books on the verso of the title page, but in some books is placed at the end (see Back matter).
Dedication Author A dedication page is a page in a book that precedes the text, in which the author names the person or people for whom he/she has written the book.
Epigraph Author A phrase, quotation, or poem. The epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon, either to invite comparison, or to enlist a conventional context.[7]
Table of contents Publisher This is a list of chapter headings and sometimes nested subheadings, together with their respective page numbers. This includes all front-matter items listed below, together with chapters in the body matter and back matter. The number of levels of subheadings shown should be limited, so as to keep the contents list short, ideally one page, or possibly a double-page spread. Technical books may include a list of figures and a list of tables. In French language books, the table of contents is often part of the back matter rather than the front matter.
Foreword Some person other than the author Often, a foreword will tell of some interaction between the writer of the foreword and the writer of the story, or a personal reaction and significance the story elicited. A foreword to later editions of a work often describes the work's historical context and explains in what respects the current edition differs from previous ones.
Preface Author A preface is generally the author recounting the story of how the book came into being, or how the idea for the book was developed. This is often followed by thanks and acknowledgments to people who were helpful to the author during the time of writing.
Acknowledgments Author Sometimes part of the preface rather than a separate section in its own right, or sometimes placed in the back matter rather than the front, it acknowledges those who contributed to the creation of the book.
Introduction Author A beginning section which states the purpose and goals of the following writing.
Prologue Narrator (or a character in the book) Usually present in fiction or narrative nonfiction, the prologue is an opening to the story that establishes the setting and gives background details, often from some earlier or later timeframe that ties into the main one. As such, it is generally considered part of the body in modern book organization (cf. Chicago Manual of Style).

Body matter

Initial on the opening page of a book printed by the Kelmscott Press

Main article: Body text

The structure of a work—and especially of its body matter—is often described hierarchically.

A set of leaves bound together. Thus each work is either a volume, or is divided into volumes.
Books and parts
Single-volume works account for most of the non-academic consumer market in books. A single volume may embody either a part of a book or the whole of a book; in some works, parts encompass multiple books, while in others, books may consist of multiple parts.
Chapters and sections
A chapter or section may be contained within a part or a book. When both chapters and sections are used in the same work, the sections are more often contained within chapters than the reverse.[citation needed] Chapters and sections may have intertitles, also known as internal titles.[8]
Modules and units
In some books the chapters are grouped into bigger parts, sometimes called modules. The numbering of the chapters can begin again at the start of every module. In educational books, especially, the chapters are often called units.

The first page of the actual text of a book is the opening page, which often incorporates special design features, such as initials. Arabic numbering starts at this first page. If the text is introduced by a second half title or opens with a part title, the half title or part title counts as page one. As in the front matter, page numbers are omitted on blank pages, and are either omitted or a drop folio is used on the opening page of each part and chapter. On pages containing only illustrations or tables, page numbers are usually omitted, except in the case of a long sequence of figures or tables.[3]

The following are two instructive examples:

Back matter (end matter)

Not to be confused with endpapers.

The back matter, also known as end matter, if used, normally consists of one or more of the following components:

Name Voice Purpose
Epilogue The narrator (or a character in the book) This piece of writing at the end of a work of literature or drama is usually used to bring closure to the work.
Outro The conclusion to a piece of work; this is considered the opposite of the intro. This term is more commonly used in music.
Afterword The author, or some other real person An afterword generally covers the story of how the book came into being, or of how the idea for the book was developed.
Conclusion Author
Appendix or Addendum Author This supplemental addition to a given main work may correct errors, explain inconsistencies or otherwise detail or update the information found in the main work.
Glossary Author The glossary consists of a set of definitions of words of importance to the work. They are normally alphabetized. The entries may consist of places and characters, which is common for longer works of fiction.
Bibliography Author This cites other works consulted when writing the body. It is most common in non-fiction books or research papers.
Index Publisher This list of terms used in the text contains references, often page numbers, to where the terms can be found in the text. Most common in non-fiction books.
Colophon Publisher This brief description may be located at the end of a book or on the verso of the title page. It describes production notes relevant to the edition, such as typeface used, and may include a printer's mark or logotype.[9]
Author Author A brief, single page-long biography of the author, sometimes accompanied by a photograph of them. It is written in the third-person narrative.[10]

Arabic numbering continues for the back matter.

Front cover, spine, and back cover

The spine of the book is an important aspect in book design, especially in the cover design. When the books are stacked up or stored in a shelf, the details on the spine is the only visible surface that contains the information about the book. In a book store, it is often the details on the spine that attract the attention first.

The front cover is the front of the book, and is marked appropriately by text or graphics in order to identify it as such (namely as the very beginning of the book). The front cover usually contains at least the title or author, with possibly an appropriate illustration. When the book has a soft or hard cover with dust jacket, the cover yields all or part of its informational function to the dust jacket.

On the inside of the cover page, extending to the facing page is the front endpaper sometimes referred as FEP. The free half of the end paper is called a flyleaf. Traditionally, in hand-bound books, the endpaper was just a sheet of blank or ornamented paper physically masking and reinforcing the connection between the cover and the body of the book. In modern publishing it can be either plain, as in many text-oriented books, or variously ornamented and illustrated in books such as picture books, other children's literature, some arts and craft and hobbyist books, novelty/gift-market and coffee table books, and graphic novels. These books have an audience and traditions of their own where the graphic design and immediacy is especially important and publishing tradition and formality are less important.

The spine is the vertical edge of a book as it normally stands on a bookshelf. Early books did not have titles on their spines; rather they were shelved flat with their spines inward and titles written with ink along their fore edges. Modern books display their titles on their spines.

In languages with Chinese-influenced writing systems, the title is written top-to-bottom. In languages written from left to right, the spine text can be pillar (one letter per line), transverse (text line perpendicular to long edge of spine) and along spine. Conventions differ about the direction in which the title along the spine is rotated:

In texts published or printed in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, the spine text, when the book is standing upright, runs from the top to the bottom. This means that when the book is lying flat with the front cover upwards, the title is oriented left-to-right on the spine. This practice is reflected in the industry standards ANSI/NISO Z39.41[11] and ISO 6357.,[12] but "... lack of agreement in the matter persisted among English-speaking countries as late as the middle of the twentieth century, when books bound in Britain still tended to have their titles read up the spine ...".[13]

In many continental European countries, where the ascending system has been used in the past, the descending system has been used in recent decades, probably due to the influence of the English-speaking countries, such as Italy, Russia, Poland and elsewhere.

In many continental European and Latin American countries, the spine text, when the book is standing upright, runs from the bottom up, so the title can be read by tilting the head to the left. This allows the reader to read spines of books shelved in alphabetical order in accordance to the usual way left-to-right and top-to-bottom.[14]

The spine usually contains all, or some, of four elements (besides decoration, if any), and in the following order: (1) author, editor, or compiler; (2) title; (3) publisher; and (4) publisher logo.

On the inside of the back cover page, extending from the facing page before it, is the endpaper. Its design matches the front endpaper and, in accordance with it, contains either plain paper or pattern, image etc.

The back cover often contains biographical matter about the author or editor, and quotes from other sources praising the book. It may also contain a summary or description of the book


Main article: Book binding

Books are classified under two categories according to the physical nature of their binding. The designation hardcover (or hardback) refers to books with stiff covers, as opposed to flexible ones. The binding of a hardcover book usually includes boards (often made of paperboard) covered in cloth, leather, or other materials. The binding is usually sewn to the pages using string stitching.

A less expensive binding method is that used for paperback books (sometimes called softback or softcover). Most paperbacks are bound with paper or light cardboard, though other materials (such as plastic) are used. The covers are flexible and usually bound to the pages using glue (perfect binding). Some small paperback books are sub-classified as pocketbooks. These paperbacks are smaller than usual—small enough to barely fit into a pocket (especially the back pocket of one's trousers). However, this capacity to fit into a pocket diminishes with increasing number of pages and increasing thickness of the book. Such a book may still be designated as a pocketbook.

Other items

Some books such as Bibles or dictionaries may have a thumb index to help find material quickly. Gold leaf may also be applied to the edges of the pages, so that when closed, the side, top, and bottom of the book have a golden color. On some books, a design may be printed on the edges, or marbling or a simple colour applied. Some artist's books go even further, by using fore-edge painting. Pop-up elements and fold-out pages may be used to add dimensions to the page in different ways. Children's books commonly incorporate a wide array of design features built into the fabric of the book. Some books for preschoolers include textured fabric, plastic on other materials. Die-cut techniques in the work of Eric Carle are one example. Clear or reflective surfaces, flaps, textiles and scratch-and-sniff are other possible features.

Page spread

See also: Page layout

Page spread with J. A. van de Graaf's construction of classical text area (print space) and margin proportions[15]

A basic unit in book design is the page spread. The left page and right page (called verso and recto respectively, in left-to-right language books) are of the same size and aspect ratio, and are centered on the gutter where they are bound together at the spine.

The design of each individual page, on the other hand, is governed by the canons of page construction.

The possible layout of the sets of letters of the alphabet, or words, on a page is determined by the so-called print space, and is also an element in the design of the page of the book. There must be sufficient space at the spine of the book if the text is to be visible. On the other hand, the other three margins of the page, which frame the book, are made of the appropriate size for both practical and aesthetic reasons.

Print space

The print space or type area determines the effective area on the paper of a book, journal or other press work. The print space is limited by the surrounding borders, or in other words the gutters outside the printed area.

See also

Other types of books



  1. ^ Tschichold 1991.
  2. ^ Hendel 1998.
  3. ^ a b c University of Chicago Press 2003.
  4. ^ Genette 1997.
  5. ^ Foster, Zoe (2023-09-04). "How to Format a Book for Publishing | Top 8 tips From Best-Sellers!". Barnett Ghostwriting Blog. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  6. ^ a b Genette 1997, p. 32.
  7. ^ Genette 1997, p. 144-160.
  8. ^ Genette 1997, p. 294-318.
  9. ^ Houston 2016, p. 329-331.
  10. ^ Stice, Carole F.; Bertrand, John E.; Bertrand, Nancy Parks (1995). Integrating Reading and the Other Language Arts: Foundations of a Whole Language Curriculum. Wadsworth Publishing. p. 490. ISBN 9780534240844.
  11. ^ ANSI/NISO Z39.41-1997 Printed Information on Spines Archived 14 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ ISO 6357 Spine titles on books and other publications, 1985.
  13. ^ Petroski 1999.
  14. ^ Drösser, Christoph (9 April 2011). "Linksdrehende Bücher". Die Zeit. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  15. ^ Van de Graaf 1946


Further reading